“Man with plane on boardwalk” by Bruce Gilden, Coney Island, New York City, USA, 1976. © Bruce Gilden

Bruce Gilden: “Man with plane on boardwalk”, Coney Island, New York City, USA, 1976. Part of the Coney Island series. Magnum Photos Image Reference GIB1976003W00001/0A (NYC14905) © Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos.

Bruce Gilden, born 1946, is a renowned American photographer, often associated with street photography. He often operates in very close proximity of the people he’s photographing, usually with a Leica M6 35mm camera and a flashgun. The Coney Island series was one of his first major project:

Another defining characteristic of Gilden’s photography is his creative attraction to what he calls “characters,” and he has been tracking them down all through his career. His first major project, which he worked on until 1986, focused on Coney Island, the legendary Brooklyn beach where New Yorkers who cannot escape the city heat have been going for cheap thrills summer after summer. (read more)

Gilden commented a selection of the photos he produced for his Coney Island project at the Magnum Photos website. Here’s what he had to say about the man and his inflatable airplane:

This gentleman who’s holding an inflatable plane and posing for me in the arcade area –in between Surf Avenue, the big avenue where Nathan’s is, and the boardwalk– I asked him if he’d mind coming off the beach, so I can make a portrait of him. What I love is, if you see his shoes, his shoes almost look like shoes that are made for clowns.

Both Gilden and this particular photo (among many others) are featured in the documentary film Everybody Street (Cheryl Dunn, 2013, IMDb; the film can be rented on Vimeo). Bruce Gilden joined Magnum Photos in 1998 and became full member in 2002. He lives in New York City.

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Alec Soth, born in 1969, is another member of Magnum Photos. The photograph displayed below was taken in 2002. It is titled “Charles, Vasa, Minnesota” and, as with Bruce Gilden, it is also part of Soth’s first major project: Sleeping by the Mississippi. The image was used for the poster of the Whitney Biennial 2004.

“Charles, Vasa, Minnesota” by Alec Soth, 2002. Part of the ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ series. Image retrieved from the Brooklyn Museum website. © Alec Soth.
“Charles, Vasa, Minnesota” by Alec Soth, 2002. Part of the ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ series. Image retrieved from the Brooklyn Museum website. © Alec Soth.

Although the two portraits shot by Gilden and Soth share some formal similarities, the process by which they were produced is very different. On one hand, Gilden shoots quickly with a light 35mm camera. One can watch him work in the streets of New York City in a video recorded during the winter of 2014: Bruce Gilden (2014) New York.

On the other hand, Soth took some time to strike up conversation with the strangers he met while driving around the Mississippi River. When he would find an opportunity for a photo, he would take some more time –about 20 minutes– to setup his large and bulky 8-by-10 view camera, and actually take the photo itself. Here’s what he had to say about the portrait he took of Charles:

The picture of Charles came about while I was driving through Vasa, Minnesota. I saw a peculiar house from the road. I drove up and knocked on the door. A woman told me that her husband Charles had built the house. She explained that Charles was a bit of a crazy dreamer. (She complained that he’d moved the stairwell three times). Charles soon emerged. He took me on a tour. We climbed a ladder to the 4th story, which was really just one small room defined entirely by windows. He called it his cockpit. He told me that he and his daughter built model airplanes in this room. The room was too small to photograph, so I took Charles out on the roof. (“The Mississippi: An Interview with Alec Soth” by Aaron Schuman, August 2004)

For more about Alec Soth, see “Trolling for Strangers to Befriend” by Hilarie M. Sheets (New York Times, July 31, 2009). In 2010, the Minnesota Original video series produced a 6-mins portrait of Alec Soth where one can see him operate his 8-by-10 camera. The same year, he was also the subject of a full-feature documentary film titled Somewhere to Disappear, which can be bought or rented online as well (IMDb). The trailer is embeded below.

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